By Gabe Olla

Better Health

It is said that taking the first step is usually winning half the battle- and I would agree. However, sometimes that step is just the start of a long road ahead. As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness month this May, we need to recognize that diagnosing and treating these illnesses can be a complicated journey. It has been reported that the average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is about 11 years1. That is a decade of life lost to pain and suffering. Patients with chronic medical conditions are more susceptible to anxiety, stress, and depression.  Treatment can also be very challenging with many patients experiencing a lack of response to medications. And last, but certainly not least, the stigma around mental health is unfortunately still very much present in our society.

While we are starting to see some signs of relief as more vaccines are being deployed, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the toll it has taken on our mental health are still present. Loss of jobs, switching to a working-from-home environment, quarantine, and lockdown, and the unfortunate hospitalization rates and loss of many, have affected us all in one way or another. Pre-pandemic, 20.6% of the adult U.S. population lived with a mental illness2. In June of 2020, during the height of the pandemic, it was reported that 40% of U.S. adults struggled with mental health and substance abuse1.

Even when a mental illness is diagnosed, finding the right treatment that works for every patient can be quite challenging as there is not a “one size fits all” approach. About 24% of adults with a mental illness report an unmet need for treatment and this number has not declined since 20113. While treatments have been identified, each patient will have a different response as well as potential drug-to-drug interaction that may inherently alter their efficacy.

While we have made progress in relieving the stigma that has surrounded mental health for decades, we still have a long way to go.  We need to have more conversations around the subject in an effort to “normalize” mental health, and realize that it is perfectly normal to go through periods of ups and downs in our life; we are humans after all, and our emotions are a big part of who we are. However, no one should feel left alone. Seeking help, whether it is a family member, a friend, or a medical professional, should be seen as a sign of strength. It takes strength and courage to take matters into our hands as long as we are provided with a nurturing environment and the tools to succeed.

At Quest Diagnostics we are committed to helping physicians and patients alike in their quest for better health. Now more than ever it is of utmost importance that we keep our wellbeing at the forefront of our daily lives—whether it be physical or mental. Quest Diagnostics offers a comprehensive test menu to assist physicians in diagnosing potential underlying chronic conditions that may result in patients exhibiting symptoms of mental health illnesses. Our Pharmacogenomics panel can help gain valuable insight into a patient’s potential response to medications and optimize their treatment considerations and outcomes.

During this month of May and beyond, let us keep the conversation going and continue to raise awareness for mental health. For More information and the opportunity to take a free mental health assessment, please visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (www.nami.org) and Mental Health America (www.MHAnational.org).

About the author: In March of this year, Gabe Olla joined the Neurology franchise team at Quest diagnostics as a product director focusing on Mental Health.

“…We all know that life events can take a toll on our mental health and emotional state, I have seen it among friends, family members, and certainly even in my own experience. I am excited to be a part of the Neurology team and working towards improving health outcomes for millions of people affected by mental health.”

References:

  1. Solomon-Maynard, M. 10 surprising Mental Health Statistics from 2020. Mental Health First Aid. https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/external/2020/11/10-surprising-mental-health-statistics-from-2020/. Accessed 26 Apr. 2021
  2. Mental Health by the Numbers. National Alliance on Mental Health. https://www.nami.org/mhstat. Accessed 26 Apr. 2021
  3. 2021 state of Mental Health in America. Mental Health America. https://mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america. Accessed 26 Apr. 2021